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Center for Civil and Human Rights unveils new affordable design

By Maria Saporta

The National Center for Civil and Human Rights revealed a new scaled-down, economically-sustainable design for what will become a signature attraction for Atlanta.

The new design was unveiled Monday evening at the W Hotel downtown, which is only a couple of blocks away from the site of the Center.

The Center will no longer have a design with the imagery of two interlocking arms — a symbol of the Civil Rights movement and a vision that won a competitive design competition in 2009.

The new design, however, was done by the same architectural team — North Carolina-based Freelon Group and HOK-Atlanta — that had won the competition three years ago.

The new design calls for a three-story structure that will be between 35,000 and 42,000 square feet. It will have a about 18,000 square feet of exhibit space — a gallery to display the papers of Martin Luther King Jr. on the lowest level (the most secure spot in the building), a Civil Rights gallery on the second and third levels, and a Human Rights gallery also on the third level.

New design for National Center of Civil and Human Rights in Atlanta

The building also will have a special events space on the ground level that will be big enough to hold 270 people for a lecture and 225 people for a seated dinner. The top floor also will have a broadcast studio that will be capable to produce videos and audio recordings.

The project is being built for $70 million — the amount of money that the Center has already raised for construction, exhibits and acquisition of special collections. That includes $5 million that is being set aside for an endowment.

Not only will the Center open with no debt; the attraction will be self-sustaining from day one, according to Doug Shipman, the CEO of the Center who has been working on this project since 2005.

“We have raised the funds to build the first phase,” Shipman said in an interview. “We plan to open on Memorial Day, 2014.”

The Center will overlook Pemberton Place and will be on the same block as the Georgia Aquarium and the World of Coca-Cola — across from Centennial Olympic Park. The ground-breaking for the Center will be on June 27, and it is expected to take almost two years to develop.

“Over the next two years, we will continue to fundraise around programs, endowment and other opportunities for partnerships,” Shipman added.

Original design for National Center for Civil and Human Rights

The Center also has envisioned two other expansions — one would be to house traveling and temporary exhibitions and the other would be for an auditorium for more formal events. Each expansion is expected to cost between $10 million and $15 million.

The Center is being envisioned to be as much as a venue to showcase current civil and human rights issues as it is to highlight the extraordinary history that occurred in Atlanta, the South, the nation and around the world.

“It’s a living attraction, so we wanted to open something that’s vibrant from the get go,” Shipman said. “We wanted to go with a phased approach that could accomplish our mission. The board has appropriately responded to a tough economic environment and decided to build something that’s going to be successful.”

In order to meet its business plan, the Center will need to attract 350,000 attendees a year. By comparison, the Georgia Aquarium attracts more than two million visitors; and the World of Coca-Cola attracts more than one million visitors. The highest ticket price to the Center will be $12, Shipman said.

At the unveiling event on Monday, Center officials also announced that the accounting firm of Ernst & Young is donating $50,000 to help support programs in the facility.

The original design called for a $100 million attraction with an additional $25 million endowment that would have had a total of 90,000 square feet. That was scaled down in 2010 to build a 60,000 square foot attraction for $85 million with another $15 million to go towards an endowment.

Both those plans would have allowed the Center to open with no debt, but their operations would not have been 100 percent self-sustaining. They had anticipated that about 20 percent of the operating costs would have been covered by an annual membership campaign.

The new design should be able to cover all its operating costs with the Center’s ticket and event revenues.

Maria Saporta

Maria Saporta, Editor, is a longtime Atlanta business, civic and urban affairs journalist with a deep knowledge of our city, our region and state.  Since 2008, she has written a weekly column and news stories for the Atlanta Business Chronicle. Prior to that, she spent 27 years with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, becoming its business columnist in 1991. Maria received her Master’s degree in urban studies from Georgia State and her Bachelor’s degree in journalism from Boston University. Maria was born in Atlanta to European parents and has two young adult children.



  1. KSF June 11, 2012 9:45 pm

    This design looks brutal.  Dark and constricted compared to the original’s light, expansive, and inclusive design.  The interlocking arms of the original was also a spot on metaphor for the museum’s contents and mission.  This one looks like an abandoned motorcycle helmet.  What do the inward arching curves convey – a vanishing future falling in on itself?  I hope other views prove me wrong but this thing looks charmless and clueless.Report

  2. ChadKemp June 11, 2012 9:55 pm

    SAD SAD SAD SAD.Report

  3. ChadKemp June 11, 2012 9:56 pm

    A Budget “Signature for Atlanta”. This is truly sad.Report

  4. DanielBryant June 12, 2012 1:05 am

    damn. they need to go back to the drawing board with that one. the previous design was beautiful. this? it looks closed off, unwelcoming and brutalistic.Report

  5. RBP June 12, 2012 9:08 am

    The old design was stunning, this one sucks.Report

  6. RBP June 12, 2012 9:11 am

    I hate to say this new design will be a failure.Report

  7. GhettoFabulousATL June 12, 2012 9:46 am

    Both designs are going to be failures.  Throwing Money after this boondoggle will be just like all the past efforts of throwing Money at Auburn Avenue “just to see what sticks”.  We already have the King Center that serves as the Civil Rights / Human Rights center.  Why spend 70 plus million on another space…just to satisfy sombody’s EJ whim?Report

    1. DanielBryant June 13, 2012 1:19 am

       @GhettoFabulousATL this isn’t just about history, it’s about the future— human rights is an ongoing issue and while blacks were at the center of the issue in atlanta, it is not limited to the civil rights movement in the south— it is entrenched in the genocide in sudan, in the treatment of the citizens of syria and iran, and even here in atlanta where we allow “bodies: the exhibit” to display the corpses of prisoners executed by the chinese government as some kind of side show for the public in the name of “science”. human rights is an ongoing issue, and it deserves a national center, and one that doesn’t look like a mockery compared to the world of coke next door. it’s a shame that both the world of coke and the new college football hall of fame will be larger, but i guess that’s what we value in society more these days.Report

    2. CeleryK June 13, 2012 10:46 pm

      This building is going to be on the other side of the city from Auburn Avenue. The placement of this center is perfect — it next door to two extremely popular Atlanta attractions not to mention Centennial Park and a couple blocks away from Phillips Arena. The King Center which is on Auburn Avenue gets little traffic and attention due to being in a less popular part of town. 
      And why spend 70+ million on another space? To brighten our fine city and bring more awareness to a topic that will always spark passion in humanity. This center will create jobs and provide a new bright spot in Atlanta. Report

  8. CeleryK June 13, 2012 10:37 pm

    The original design was indeed metaphorical and iconic and the new design is even more so. The curved lines are almost flame like which plays into the idea of Atlanta as a pheonix city. The birds eye view is even reminiscent of the Atlanta Logo http://www.atlantaphotos.com/images/images_big/Atlanta_1c_blk.jpg
    The design is modern and the best element (the sustainable green-top roof) is still there. This building will nicely compliment the aquarium and the Cola-Cola museum and other buildings in the downtown vicinity. What a wonderful and positive addition to our city! Report

  9. RightsCTR June 14, 2012 1:01 pm

    @LeadershipAtl @georgiaforward @DougShip Many thanks for your continued support!Report

  10. miked706 November 6, 2013 7:25 am

    I agree. This design doesn’t pop like the previous one did. It’s boring looking.Report


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